A Philanthropic Covenant With Black America

Following the 2006 publication of Tavis Smiley's A Covenant With Black America, which reached number one on the New York Times best-seller list, African-American communities across the country mobilized to make Smiley's "covenant" a reality. Smiley's call to action also catalyzed many grassroots organizations, nonprofits, and foundations to pay more attention to seemingly intractable problems in the African-American community and to seek solutions to those problems.

Originally conceived as a project of the National Center for Black Philanthropy in Washington, D.C., A Philanthropic Covenant With Black America picks up where Smiley's book left off. A compilation of eight essays written by leaders within the African American community, the volume paints a compelling picture of the realities of black life in America and argues that a renewed sense of philanthropy within black communities is vital to strengthening those communities.

Edited and with a thoughtful introduction and final chapter by Rodney M. Jackson, founder and president of NCBP, A Philanthropic Covenant delves into many topics related to philanthropy within the black community, including the roles of religion, civic engagement and volunteerism in shaping black philanthropy; the important role of family and friends in black communities; and the African American response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In some cases, multiple authors address the same issue; the definition of philanthropy, for example, is a theme that is revisited often, and Jackson himself provides a wonderful definition: "the thoughtful application of one's time, talent, or treasures for the greater good." Indeed, too often, a number of contributors argue, philanthropy is associated only with the extremely wealthy — the Carnegies, Rockefellers, and Gateses of the world — when, in fact, it is the simple act of giving — of one's time, skills, or financial resources — that truly defines what it means to be philanthropic.

In that spirit, the book address both micro and macro views of African American philanthropy, with a particular emphasis on the role of the individual in the black community and a passionate belief that what is good for the African American community is also beneficial — indeed, critical — to the overall health of American society. Contributors to the volume include Harold Dean Trulear ("Philanthropy and Religion"), associate professor of applied theology at the Howard University School of Divinity; Carol Brunson Day ("Families and Friends — The Power of Small Groups"), president and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute; Jeanette M. Davis-Loeb ("Youth in Philanthropy"), founder and CEO of the Rising Oak Foundation; and Angela Glover Blackwell ("Empowering the African American Community Through Strategic Grantmaking"), founder and CEO of PolicyLink, a nonprofit that works to advance economic and social equity in America. Throughout, the reader is made aware of what needs to change in the black community and is provided with a wealth of specific recommendations and practical advice about how to effect those transformations.

Okay, I can imagine some readers choosing to pass on A Philanthropic Covenant because they don't consider themselves to be connected to or focused on the African American community. That would be a mistake. Whether the topic is community fundraising, civic engagement, the development of children and youth as a volunteer resource, or the operation of an effective giving circle, the advice and multifaceted approach to philanthropy presented by the book's contributors will benefit any individual — indeed, any nonprofit — looking to strengthen his or her cultural competency and philanthropic effectiveness.

In short, A Philanthropic Covenant With Black America is a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any grantmaker, nonprofit leader, or individual interested in community-based action to benefit society. But maybe most importantly, it reminds us that not only can anybody be a philanthropist; it is in the best interests of family, community, and the world that we all think and act philanthropically, in the truest sense of the word, as we go about our lives.

Gillian Sciacca
Editorial Associate
Foundation Center
New York, New York